By Ros Satar

  • Novak Djokovic [1] v Andy Murray [2] – H2H: Djokovic leads 23-10
  • Djokovic def. Dominic Thiem [13] 6-2 6-1 6-4
  • Murray def. Stan Wawrinka [3] 6-4 6-2 4-6 6-2

PARIS, FRANCE – In the second Slam of the year, the World Nos. 1 & 2 will do battle once more, as Novak Djokovic has Andy Murray standing in his way for that elusive title.

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In fact the only thing we can say with any certainty is that on Sunday, there will be a new name on the Coupe des Mousquetaires. The challenges have been plentiful this year in Paris, with the inclement weather playing havoc with the schedules.

Novak Djokovic [1] def. Dominic Thiem [13] 6-2 6-1 6-4

The weather has clobbered the top half of the draw as Djokovic completed his fourth straight day on court, probably surprised he has not contracted trench foot by now. In some of his previous matches his levels of irritability have shown just how much he wants this one, but on Friday he delivered a veritable masterclass to one of the ATP’s brightest rising stars.

Thiem was the penultimate barrier to Djokovic and his dream of holding all four Slams at the same time, and had been mightily impressive himself throughout the tournament, on a surface where he has won all but one of his six titles to date.

But it was the last run of a brave little zebra, as he was effectively contained by Djokovic, who pinned him behind the baseline as he could only bring up a single break point chance against the World No. 1 in the first two sets.

However there was a noticeable dip in Djokovic’s intensity, as Thiem broke for the border in the third set, building up a 3-0 lead, but once Djokovic came out on top of a 30-shot rally Thiem’s resolve seemed to unravel, as Djokovic won the next four games on the bounce. Thiem would at least reclaim another game but Djokovic sailed into his 20th Grand Slam final.

 

Andy Murray [2] def. Stan Wawrinka [3] 6-4 6-2 4-6 6-2

Neither Murray or Wawrinka had the most auspicious starts to the tournament, both taken to five sets in their opening matches, with Murray repeating the feat in the next round before finally netting a couple of three set wins against big servers Ivo Karlovic and John Isner. His quarter-final against Richard Gasquet saw him mounting another battle to come from a set down and hush the French crowds.

Those same crowds seemed dulled into a silence again as Murray mixed aggressive play, with stunning variety to push defending champion Wawrinka into rushing his shots. Twice in a row, Murray broke the Swiss in the third game of the set, pulling away in the second set and making it a long way back for Wawrinka.

With Wawrinka ahead on serve, and the pair remaining competitive, it took a lax game from Murray to give Wawrinka a set as the defending champ tried to whip up the crowd.

Murray had the best response for that though, breaking Wawrinka in the opening game. Putting him under pressure consistently reaped its reward with a late break, with Murray serving out for his place in his first Roland Garros final to love.

 

Novak Djokovic [1] v Andy Murray [2] – H2H: Djokovic leads 23-10

That head to head may look a touch intimidating, but Murray finally snapped a four match losing streak against the Serbian, and will contest the second Slam of the year against Djokovic. Of course it may still smart a little that in Australia, Djokovic has had all the answers the four times they have faced each other. But in New York and Wimbledon it was Murray’s moment to shine.

Murray also snapped a four match losing streak on clay against Djokovic when they faced each other for the second time in two weeks in Rome. In Madrid, a slow start left Murray on the back-foot as Djokovic steamed to a win. But the tables were turned when Murray played far better in the sea level conditions perhaps a little closer to those in Paris, coming into Roland Garros with the win in Rome.

Murray has escaped the worse of the scheduling chaos, but they both now have a day to recover before the final. It is no secret that this is the title that Djokovic is desperate to win to give him the career Grand Slam, not to mention becoming the first player to hold all four majors at the same time since 1969, when Rod Laver completed a calendar year Grand Slam.

Djokovic will of course go into this as the favourite – his ability to lift his game and his dominance of the game, and he has been denied three times, so surely he is due a break. Twice he has lost to arguably one of the best clay court players of all time, Rafael Nadal, and of course last year to an inspired Stan Wawrinka.

Murray’s improvement on historically his worst surface started in fine style with winning his first clay court title in Munich last year, followed by beating Nadal twice in his own back yard in Madrid and finally Djokovic in Rome.

Murray must come out as aggressively as he did against Wawrinka. The colder and heavier conditions should have suited a player like Wawrinka who can hit cleanly through the ball, and Djokovic’s play today kept Thiem just where he wanted him, moving him all around. However, Murray’s shot-making and using angles to his advantage may just nullify that tactic.

His serving has to be sharp, his returns doubly so, and he should keep his focus if or when Djokovic loses his as the prize gets nearer.

It is manageable for Murray, but it will take his best tennis to date to pull this off and deny Djokovic his dream.

Prediction: Murray in five sets.

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